2014 NBA Draft Prospects with the Most to Prove Entering Critical March Stretch
Depending on what each prospect's goals are in terms of NBA draft projections, a portion of them will have something to prove down the final stretch of the season.
The last four-to-six weeks will complete the sample size scouts will be evaluating from. And in that time, one can go from being an average shooter to a good one, or a questionable leader to a floor general.
The following prospects are guys who have questions to answer regarding their games and the overall packages they'll be offering on draft night.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, 6'4", PG/SG, Sophomore
A lot has changed over the past few months.
Jimmy Fallon has taken over for Jay Leno. Matthew McConaughey has taken over the world. But no change has been more bizarre than the one that's happened to Marcus Smart's image.
He's gone from prized prospect and consummate floor general to a loose cannon and guard that can't shoot.
Few have more to prove than Smart, whose sophomore resume currently shows a boatload of losses and a three-game suspension. Not only does he have to prove himself as a player, but after shoving a fan in the stands at Texas Tech, he has to earn back his reputation as a leader and high-character person.
“No excuse for his actions but how he addresses it will determine whether he drops at all," one scout told SNY's Adam Zagoria.
He's played two strong games since returning from suspension, but scouts aren't interested in his stats against TCU and Texas Tech. They want to see him perform under adversity when the pressure is on.
And it wouldn't hurt for him to start making some jump shots. He nailed five three-pointers in his second game back, only he's still shooting below 30 percent from downtown on the year.
But from here on out, NBA executives will be focused on how well Smart handles himself and the team he's supposed to be leading. A dynamite run in the Big-12 conference tournament would sure help point the arrow back upwards.
Andrew Harrison, Kentucky, 6'6", PG, Freshman
Though he's obviously a talented player, Andrew Harrison has raised some questions during his freshman season.
For starters, I'm not even sure point guard is his natural or ideal position. Facilitating at the college level hasn't come so easily—he's averaging just 3.5 assists to 2.6 turnovers a game.
But no matter which way you slice it, point guard or combo guard, Harrison doesn't appear close to being NBA-ready.
As a scorer, he's only shooting 29.1 percent on two-point jumpers and just 50.7 percent at the rim, both below-average numbers. He's struggled with contact on the interior and consistency on the perimeter.
In between, his shot selection has been shaky, as we've seen him settle at times when there's a chance to attack the rim.
You can't argue with the size and potential, but if Harrison wants to be making NBA money in 2014-15, he's gotta lead Kentucky down the stretch. Otherwise, he'll likely be forced to return with even more to prove as a sophomore.
Glenn Robinson III, Michigan, 6'6", SF, Sophomore
Glenn Robinson III was supposed to be big-time all the time as a sophomore. But it seems like the switch turns on or off every two weeks or so.
In doses, we've seen the whole package, from pull-up and step-back jumpers to backdoor alley-oops and nifty slashes to the rack.
But we've also seen him shoot 1-of-7 in a loss to Iowa, as well as finish with single-digits in scoring in losses to Duke and Indiana. Robinson finished 3-of-10 for nine points against Ohio State, and 2-of-8 for nine points against Michigan State.
That's just too many no-shows for a returning player who had lottery expectations.
Robinson has clearly struggled with efficiency and consistency alongside a point guard not named Trey Burke.
With a few games left before the Big Ten tournament, this is a chance for Robinson to emerge and establish himself as a major impact player.
He's been great at times this season—Robinson recently went for 15 points in a win over Michigan State, 23 points against Nebraska and 20 in a loss earlier in the year to Arizona. And when he's on his game, he looks the part.
But Robinson will have to prove he can assert himself down the stretch. Because right now, his sales pitch isn't as strong as it was a year ago.
Aaron Gordon, Arizona, 6'9", SF/PF, Freshman
Aaron Gordon has been effective for Arizona in the role coach Sean Miller has carved out for him. It's a role that allows him to play to his strengths without having to stray from his comfort zone.
But the fact is that his comfort zone is quite small at the moment. Gordon is limited to finishing around the rim off dump passes, lobs or misses, where he taps into that tremendous athleticism and coordination.
He's making just 26.8 percent of his two-point jumpers and 41.1 percent of his free throws, while he's hit just 10 three-pointers all season. At this point, Gordon's perimeter and in-between games aren't exactly very threatening.
And it's led to some inconsistency and games where he's finished as a non-factor. Gordon recently fouled out in 20 minutes after scoring three points against Utah, and he had a stretch in late January to February where he shot 11-of-42 over a four-game span.
Moving forward, Gordon might want to use the next four-to-six weeks to try and establish an identity for himself. He doesn't currently have the skill set to add anything as an NBA small forward, and we haven't seen much of a post game out of Gordon as a 4, which is probably his more natural position.
With original starting power forward Brandon Ashley out with an injury, Gordon will now have the chance to make a consistent impact up front.
And that could help change the minds of those who feel uncertain of his position or his ability to contribute early as a young pro.
Jahii Carson, Arizona State, 5'10", PG, Sophomore
Though he's put up plenty of points as a sophomore, the NBA folks won't be looking for a 5'10", ball-dominant scorer.
They'll be looking for a point guard who can create for teammates and hopefully make their jobs easier.
Carson has struggled at times to balance his offense as a playmaker—his 4.6-3.7 assist-to-turnover ratio is pretty uninspiring—while his 42.8 field-goal percentage on nearly 15 shots a game doesn't exactly scream efficiency.
The truth is that sub-6'0" guards really have little margin for error. Carson won't have the freedom to recklessly attack the rim, where he shoots an underwhelming 52.8 percent, nor will he have the chance to dance around on the perimeter.
Scouts will be looking to see how effective Carson is as a decision-maker down the stretch. He has the quickness and skills to play at the next level. But over the next month, he'll have to prove he has the ability to convert them into high-percentage offense.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas, 6'8", SF, Freshman
If Andrew Wiggins wants to maximize his chances of going No. 1 overall, he'll have to win back supporters he lost who don't view him as an Alpha dog.
And what better way to do that than to lead Kansas on a run into March and April?
The stakes are definitely higher from here on out. And a Final Four run led by Wiggins would look awfully good on his resume come June.
Then again, a poor showing in an early-exit loss might not sit well with those general managers on the fence—especially if a guy like Jabari Parker is able to march Duke deep into the tournament.
Wiggins doesn't have to prove anything regarding his upside and potential. I think we're all quite aware of it by now. But if he's looking to draw as many general managers as possible to his corner, Wiggins will want to activate takeover mode down the stretch.